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Home Defense Series - Weapon Selection

Defending your home from armed or otherwise dangerous intruders is a situation no one wants to find themselves in - but just like any other emergency situation, you prepare the best you can for it now, regardless of its likelihood or the potential outcome. Read on, as we delve into the ins and outs of ensuring you’re ready for whatever - or whoever - may attempt to invade your home.


Tactical semi-automatic shotgun

We’ve gone over the importance of having a plan - let’s say you’ve got that down. Now what? Now, the fun begins: now, we talk about fighting back.


Step 2: Weapon Selection


So you’ve created the perfect home defense plan, without fault. Time to arm yourself. The key here is simple:


Overwhelming Force.


No plan is complete without adequate means of retaliation - and you never want to risk being outgunned in your own home. Your goal here should be clear and concise: No fair fights. Think of it this way - if the military identifies a group of 50 insurgents hidden in some caves, armed with IEDs, a few AKs and rockets, they’re not going to send in 50 men for a “fair” fight - they’re going to send in 5,000 men - mostly to clean up after bombing the cave system to oblivion. The greatest battle and the smallest gunfight are not about evening the odds - this isn’t a boxing match. The key is to overwhelm the enemy so greatly that they have no odds. No chance of success. No chance to harm you or your loved ones. So with that, my friends, let’s talk about some handy tools to make that happen in a home defense situation:


Shotguns


Tactical semi-automatic shotgun

Okay, I am only putting this first because it tends to be what people think of first when it comes to home defense weaponry. Shotguns are preferred because they can reliably send a large amount of “screw you” downrange at once without much effort. Even so, I do not consider shotguns to be the best tool for home defense.


Assuming you are using a reliable, tube-fed pump shotgun (which, if you’re using a shotgun for home defense, should probably be the choice), you’ll be more limited on ammo capacity than other options, and many popular “defense” loads have a tendency to over-penetrate more than other weapon ammo types. Being slightly more difficult to suppress, you can just about guarantee some hearing loss if you’re shooting a 12 gauge in your bedroom as well. A heavy, long, pump-action shotgun may also be difficult for more inexperienced shooters to operate in a heated situation when they’re drowsy in the middle of the night - not to mention having to pump for every round fired. While semi-automatic shotguns can remedy this, options in the same price ranges as quality pump shotguns are generally not as reliable and/or can be more picky with what shells they like, and that’s not something I’m willing to risk when lives are on the line. In other words, a $400 pump shotgun is generally going to be extremely reliable - a $400 semi-automatic shotgun may or may not be, depending on the brand, model, and ammo selection.


If you’re opting for a shotgun, I’d easily recommend a Mossberg 590 with #4 Buckshot. This gives you an affordable, tried-and-true shotgun endorsed by the military for decades, as well as a solid shell choice that penetrates enough to ruin an armed intruder’s day, but not to ruin your relative on the other side of the wall they’re in front of. Your attorney will appreciate that too. A fair few studies have shown #4, #1 and some 00 to be outstanding sweet-spots for this purpose.


AR15 (ArmaLite Rifle)


AR15 Rifle with red dot sight

One of the most versatile weapons available, and that includes for home defense. Also one of my personal top choices due to that versatility - easy to suppress, easy to feed, easy to maneuver, easy to customize to your liking - the fun never ends with a good ‘ol AR15.


One of the biggest pros of using an AR15 in home defense is magazine capacity. Keeping a loaded 30-round mag in the gun is no issue, even less to have another sitting next to it. You can even throw them in a mag coupler if you’d like, since you probably won’t be lugging around the extra weight for long. The platform is ridiculously stable and easy to use, allowing for aiming steadiness and easier follow-up shots than a shotgun or handgun. Even better, nearly every potential drawback to using an AR15 for home defense can be remedied. Too loud? Throw a suppressor on there. Still too loud? Go 300 Blackout, and run subsonic. Too much penetration? Grab some Hornady Critical Defense. Don’t like the barrel length? Try another one!


I give two recommendations for a solid home-defense AR: First, a 300 Blackout AR Pistol, 8.5-10.5” barrel with a 1:7 or 1:8 twist, Hornady Critical Defense Subsonic ammo and a suppressor if possible. If 5.56/.223 is a must, I’d go with a tried and true 16” barrel (mine is from Aero Precision, and holy hell is it a reliable, accurate beast). 16” barrels give you more comfort and less concussion than a 10.5” shorty, especially with a longer gas tube, while delivering beautiful amounts of velocity and knockdown power, and you can put any attachment you want on it without pissing off the ATF. I generally rock Hornady 55 grain .223 Critical Defense for close quarters. If you’re needing better stopping rounds at further distances, some 77 Grain OTM would do nicely as well.


Worried about “too long” of a barrel? Don’t be. Marines were clearing houses in Fallujah with 20” M16s and bayonets attached, and kicking ass all the while. I promise a 16” barrel is not too much, even with a suppressor.


Pistols


Plate carrier and pistol

Another great option, albeit with some clear pros and cons. No weapon on this list can outmatch handguns as far as sheer packability and overall mobility. Easy to conceal, easy to use, easy to maneuver with. However, all that convenience comes at a price: handguns will be more snappy and less stable than larger weapon platforms, which means they require a fair bit of practice to be able to place consistent follow-up shots. You think you “can’t miss” with a pistol at 10 yards and no training? Go to your local shooting club, throw 15 rounds down range as fast as you can at a human-sized target. Did any of those shots miss? Even one? Great, translate that shooting range to your living room, and the cops and lawyers will have a field day with you.


Remember when I mentioned how good people occasionally “lose” in home defense situations? You’ll find that a vast majority of those situations involved nothing but handguns.


If you have the time to train consistently, pistols are a great option for home defense. If not, I would highly recommend prioritizing other options. Since handguns generally don’t match the stopping power of, say, an AR15, those follow-up shots are often vital - especially if you’re up against someone hopped up on drugs who is too high to recognize pain from getting shot. Larger pistol calibers, such as 10mm, definitely help with stopping your target, but also have a tendency to overpenetrate depending on the round itself. If you insist on a handgun and don’t have time to train consistently, you may even consider a .22 LR, or better yet, .22 WMR, as these will have significantly less recoil than a larger handgun caliber. Never think that just because “it’s a 22” it can’t kill. It can, and it does.


My advice? Get a simple 9mm handgun you’re comfortable with, get some decent defense ammunition, train with and carry that gun often, and keep it near your bedside as a backup to your “primary” home defense weapon. If you don’t have the time to obtain and prepare a rifle or shotgun, it’ll be there for you.


Pistol Caliber Carbines (PCC)


Man wearing tactical gear with pistol caliber carbine

Many people discount Pistol Caliber Carbines as a novelty, a range toy, and nothing more; but they are my absolute favorite choice for home defense. These beauties combine so many of the good options from each category, and so few of the bad ones.


PCC’s are generally lighter and smaller than rifles, granting them better maneuverability in close quarters. While still utilizing pistol calibers and thus being less “powerful” than rifle calibers, there will be less noise and muzzle blast as a result. Go shoot a 10.5” AR15 next to a 10.5” PCC at an indoor range and tell me which you’d rather shoot without ear protection in your bedroom at 3 AM. They also tend to have longer barrels than handguns, which aids in stability, recoil, accuracy, and packs a slightly better punch. In other words, you get the increased stability of a rifle, with the lower concussion of a handgun. Most PCC’s allow for decently large-capacity magazines, allowing you to place numerous follow-up shots on target with little effort; unless you live in a state that prohibits these magazines, of course.


My go-to option here? I’d recommend a Scorpion Evo with all the fixings: Double-stamped SBR with a lightweight suppressor and a solid, folding rifle stock, vertical grip, red dot, and 35-round Magpul Pmags. It’ll fold up nearly as small as a pistol, and unfold to the size of a short-barreled AR. If you want to avoid tax stamps and/or save a few dollars, throw a solid brace on there and replace the vertical grip with an angled foregrip. If you have the funds, an MP5 variant would also do nicely, and shoot even smoother - there’s a reason they’re as popular for CQB as they are. I generally steer away from the AR9 platform for home defense, with the reasoning that the MP5 and Scorpion are specifically constructed around the 9mm platform - whereas the AR9 is attempting to take something constructed around a different caliber, and adapt it to something new. For me, that is an ever-so-slightly too large of a risk for a weapon I want absolutely no anxiety over, reliability-wise.


Knives/Hammers/Baseball Bats


Man wearing body armor with a knife

Turns out, body armor is useful for stopping more than bullets.


This is a… weird one, but far more common than you would think. Certainly from a legal perspective, you may find a bit more safety in the courts having used one of these options - assuming the court doesn’t find that you used them excessively - as in, don’t stab the perpetrator 13 times. There is one major issue with contact weapons: unless you’re a throwing knife expert, you’re going to have to be close to the perpetrator to use them effectively. At that point, you better hope the perpetrator doesn’t have experience with hand-to-hand combat and/or disarmament techniques, or that they don’t just get lucky. There are so many variables that can go into this method of self-defense, that I almost always recommend a firearm as a superior alternative. The key is to stop the threat before it gets close to you, especially if you do not know the threat’s level of fighting experience - that is just one more risk.


Granted, there is absolutely a time and place for the use of contact weapons. I have several acquaintances with top-tier martial arts training that swear by the use of various knives, hammers, machetes, and so on - and while I respect their choices and recognize that they could realistically beat me in a CQB fight even if I had a firearm, it is difficult for me to recommend any of these tools to people without those levels of expertise.


Non-lethal options


Non-lethal self defense items

Note that we did not include knives/hammers/blunt options under this section - that is because all of them are considered deadly weapons, and will be regarded as such in the courtroom.


Tools like pepper spray, tasers, pepper balls, and so on are fantastic alternatives to those who are not comfortable around firearms - or are prohibited from owning them entirely. Just remember, perpetrators have been known to ignore the effects of all of these options if they are drugged out enough. Then again, perpetrators have also ignored handgun rounds when they have been drugged out enough. Regardless, these non-lethal alternatives can be extraordinarily valuable tools for de-escalating confrontations without resorting to deadly force - which 100% should be a part of your home-defense strategy, and we’ll talk more about that later. 


Oh - and if you’re going to use “less-than-lethal” shotgun rounds? Don’t. They are not the legal loophole you think they are. If you are pointing a shotgun at somebody, the court is going to assume use of deadly force regardless of ammunition, and will expect that you were in danger for your life. If you cannot prove that, get ready to do some jail time.


Ammunition Selection


FMJ vs hollow point pistol round

FMJ or Hollow Point? Yeah, it most definitely matters in self defense.


It goes without saying that the type of ammunition you choose for home defense will have wildly varying consequences - both in your home, and in the courtroom. If you’re shooting 55 grain M193 out of a 20” AR15 in close quarters with innocent people in other rooms, the court may have a field day with you. Generally, it is the responsibility of the person defending their home to use due diligence in selecting ammunition that stops the threat, yet does not present an additional threat to other people in the home, or neighbors. The obvious key here is to use ammunition that does not overpenetrate. Some people may counter with concerns over perpetrators wearing body armor (as a body armor company, we get it), but remember that a vast, VAST majority of home invasions do not involve body armor or any bulletproof materials on the perp’s side.


That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider body armor as the defender, of course - which is something we will touch on in a future article.


I usually suggest one of two paths here: First, consider contacting your local law enforcement and ask which ammunition they use in close quarters. Don’t be awkward about it, simply explain that you want to be prepared with the right type of ammunition should you ever have to use it to defend yourself. Then, it’s easy to tell the courts that you were simply following the example of your local law enforcement. Second, consider using ammunition with “defense” in the name (such as Hornady Critical Defense, as I’ve mentioned a few times). It’s very difficult to be mad at someone in court for using a specific type of ammunition when that ammunition was literally labeled with “Defense” right on the box.


Otherwise, there are plenty of other great alternatives, and a quick Google Search will help you out there. Just make sure you understand how ammunition X or Y behaves out of your specific barrel length - longer barrels will generally speed up the bullet, which can potentially result in additional penetration, while shorter barrels will do the opposite. The type of bullet itself will dramatically influence how it behaves on impact, regardless of barrel length, and so on.


A note on weapon attachments


Snow tactical gear

Should a home-defense weapon be as simple as possible, or should it be tricked out with fancy tactical gadgets and gizmos? The answer, for most people, will be a happy medium somewhere between - but more on the side of simplicity.


For the average person, I recommend a reputable, shake-awake red dot optic, a weapon light, and some type of front grip, depending on weapon choice and/or how you comfortably hold your weapon. It is worth noting that there is no one right answer with that regard. Just because your favorite Guntuber prefers an over-exaggerated C-Clamp and shoots well, doesn’t mean you will too.


The shake-awake optic turns on automatically, meaning one less thing to worry about, and is almost always superior to iron sights. Rather than having to align a pair of sights, red dots allow you to quite literally point and shoot.


Lights provide multiple advantages if used appropriately. First and most obvious, target identification. There are arguments both for and against trying to vocally call out to an intruder (some people want to remain hidden and get the drop, others want to try and talk someone out of their actions, figure out who they are, and so on). But at the end of the day, target identification could mean the difference between shooting an armed intruder and shooting your family member stumbling in at 2 AM, or even someone pulling into the wrong driveway.


The comment always follows, “Lights work both ways.” Right? The answer is yes and no, and the solution is to make sure you’re using a powerful, dedicated weapon light, such as a Streamlight or Surefire. These lights are extremely bright, and will generally blind anyone on the receiving end to the point of being momentarily incapacitated - an obvious and tremendous advantage for the defender. Remember: you know the layout of your house far better than some intruder, and that includes at night. Take advantage of this fact when utilizing weapon lights. I also highly recommend taking a low-light firearms course, as the advantages of weapon lights are almost always under appreciated until doing so.


Pistol with a light

What about lasers?


I can’t say I have very strong opinions one way or the other about them, but if the choice is between a light and a laser, I’d go with a light every single time. Contrary to Hollywood depictions, soldiers and law enforcement do not use lasers nearly as frequently as they use lights, and lasers typically used in these circumstances are under IR for night vision. Lasers must be zeroed, can fail, are generally much more expensive for “quality” compared to weapon lights,  and just add more bulk to the gun. There may be merit for some shooters who have difficulty aiming down sights or otherwise acquiring a target quickly, but if you’re using a light properly, you already have one attachment on your weapon you’re turning off and on frequently. You don’t want two of them to keep track of.


Suppressors - we’ll talk more about these when we get to ear protection in the next article. In short? Get one.


Grips - I usually recommend some form of front grip, either vertical or angled, or a handstop, depending on your personal flavor. Everyone is different, but some form of grip will almost always aid in accuracy and overall stability. And again, there is no single “right” way to support your firearm - even the best of the best shooters will have their own unique preferences to actually holding their weapon, so don’t let anyone tell you position A is objectively better or more comfortable than position B.


Wrapping Things Up


Remember, all the planning in the world is useless without the tools necessary to carry it out.


Pistol with a silencer and plate carrier

So what is the best weapon on this list for home defense? Ultimately, the best home defense weapon is the weapon you’re proficient with. There’s something to be said for weapons that are intuitively easier to operate - especially when you’re drowsy at night. But if you are a protector within your family, you owe it to yourself to rely on more than just that. I prefer to keep… “intuitive” weapons available for my loved ones who may be less proficient with firearms in general, should the need to arm them arise. However, I prefer to create my own intuitiveness through consistent training and handling the firearms I plan to use for home defense. There is absolutely no better alternative.


Again, the key is overwhelming force. If your enemy is not overwhelmed, you are doing it wrong.

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